(ran CTI LTCTNT)
The T-shirts the players wear say it all. Placed just above Oceola's schedule are the words "Something Serious."
That may be putting it mildly. The days of easy district games and easy district titles are gone. The River Ridges and Clearwater Central Catholics of the world have moved on.
Now, with a new district to compete in, it's time for something serious: Pasco, Zephyrhills, and Tampa Jesuit. Throw in non-district contests with Dixie Hollins, Northeast and Gibbs, and you have the makings of arguably the toughest schedule in the county.
"It's probably the most difficult schedule Osceola has ever had," said Warriors coach George Palmer.
"I don't think anyone has a tougher three games to open the season," he added. Osceola's first three opponents will be Northeast, Pasco and Dixie. Combined, they were 33-4 last year.
At stake is the county's longest regular season winning streak, currently at 22 games. The state record is 38 by Bradford Starke, but the brutal schedule this year could torpedo any talk of getting that far.
But don't count Osceola out. It returns maybe the best running back in the county, and has a roster that includes 23 seniors.
On the ground: It all starts with tailback Hassan Lang, who at 5-foot-11, 204 pounds has bulked up. That should scare area coaches, since a smaller version ran for 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Palmer plans again on playing Lang only on offense.
"In our opinion, he's the top running back in the county," Palmer said. "He bulked up, but it looks like most of it's muscle."
Lang, clocked in the 40 at 4.45, will be joined in the backfield by Alvin Mathis, another speedster.
Through the air: If Palmer has his way, there won't be much air in the Osceola attack. Zach Freebourn (6-1, 172) will start at quarterback. He played half a junior varsity season last year before getting injured. He just needs to make sure he hands the ball off cleanly.
Whether he throws will depend on whether the line opens up holes for Lang. Senior guard Curtis Peele (6-4, 227) and tackle Jason Hanson (6-0, 211) anchor an area of concern for Palmer. Nikki Franklin (6-4, 245) starts at tight end.
Defense, defense: Solid again. Amp Smith (6-1, 205) is a three-year starter at linebacker. He runs a 4.5 and bench presses 300 pounds, and is considered one of the best linebackers in the county.
Franklin will start at defensive end, Peele will play on the line, and Mathis, an end last year, starts at free safety.
For kicks: Joe Anderson, who played junior varsity two years ago but didn't play last year, will do the placekicking. Chris Payne, who also didn't play last year, will punt.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: George Palmer, sixth year (38-17).
Assistants: Jeff Myrick, Jim Danielski, Tim Ratchford, Dave Smith, Albert Crumb.
Stadium: Warrior Stadium.
District: Class 4A, District 9.
1994 record: 10-1. Wins: Boca Ciega 28-6, Clearwater Central Catholic 42-7, St. Petersburg 13-6, Palmetto 27-0, Gulf 23-6, Gibbs 37-36, Lakewood 17-13, Pinellas Park 42-6, River Ridge 26-6, Seminole 41-28. Loss: Class 4A state playoffs _ Hernando 14-7 (OT).
1990: Lost to Kiss. Osceola 39-6
1993: Beat Zephyrhills 35-3; lost to S. Sumter 27-16
1994: Lost to Hernando 14-7 (OT).